When the US President, through his Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, invites the Israelis and the Palestinians to hold direct negotiations under the auspices of the United States, and the International Quartet (of the EU, Russia, the United States, and the United Nations), then this is something that is worthy of interest and analysis of the hidden meanings and messages, for even if this does not benefit our understanding in this round [of negotiations] it could benefit us in future rounds. The fact that the United States has invited the relevant parties to hold direct negotiations in America at this time, 18 months after Barack Obama took office in the White House, whilst setting a deadline of one year for an agreement to be reached, means that first and foremost the US President is optimistic about the possibility of an agreement being reached. He believes that such an agreement would ensure that he could enter the next presidential elections with confidence, for in just one year the US presidential election campaigns will be in full swing.
The U.S. President taking such a political gamble has caused us to take the issue [of these negotiations] more seriously than if the situation was along the lines of the Annapolis Conference that took place during the presidency of George W. Bush. These upcoming negotiations are taking place along a broad strategic vision. With regards to the tactical aspect of the Arab-Israeli conflict, and the progress made by negotiators until now, there are six positive signs that we should also take into consideration.
The first sign is that the United States must be at least 70 percent confident that these negotiations could actually lead to a solution within the specified time frame which is due to run out a year after talks are initiated.
The second sign is that [George] Mitchell’s shuttle diplomacy trips to the Middle East, in addition to the indirect negotiations, have convinced the US President, his Secretary of State, and perhaps the National Security Council that a deal can be reached within one year. This would allow Barack Obama to enter the presidential elections armed with a historic victory. George Mitchell is well-known for his ability to settle agreements in long-standing conflicts, as what was seen in Northern Ireland with the historic reconciliation between the Sinn Fein dissident organization and the British and Irish governments.
The third sign is that Obama has a blueprint or vision for a final settlement that is almost acceptable to all parties. Barack Obama held talks with Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas (Abu Mazen), Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and several Arab leaders, whom he met either in their respective countries or at the White House. This may have influenced the US vision for a solution closer to the middle ground of the full spectrum of views that have been put forward in meetings between the US President and pro-Palestinian sides on the one hand, and Israel and its supporters on the other.
The fourth sign is that Israel and the United States have agreements on a number of common interests in the region. The most important of which is the stability of the Gulf region as a source of energy, preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear bomb, and peace in return for [access to] the Gulf markets – in other words, a peace agreement would open the Gulf markets to Israel, and undermine Iran’s nuclear capability.
The fifth sign is the invitation to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Jordan’s King Abdullah II. This invitation could be seen as a ‘vaccination’ or “inoculation” against the failure of the 1998 Clinton – Arafat agreement where Yasser Arafat and the Israelis reached an agreement under the auspices of former US President Bill Clinton. However as soon as Arafat arrived in Gaza and descended from his plane, he rejected the agreement. The American explanation of Arafat’s sudden change of heart was that some Arab leaders convinced him that he would not be able to ‘market’ what had been agreed [to the Palestinian people], and therefore, it would be better to reject the deal and announce an Intifada which would subsequently make him a leader, and that is indeed what Arafat did. Therefore the Americans learned their lesson well, and today they want Egypt and Jordan and the Arab states that have not signed agreements with Israel, to become the guarantors of the Palestinian’s actions and the Palestinian’s signing of any draft agreement. In other words, they want these Arab states to be the witnesses and guarantors [of any agreement]. If the Israelis and the Palestinians reach an agreement, the United States will guarantee Israel’s signature and actions whilst Egypt and Jordan will guarantee the Palestinian signature – which is to say guarantee that the Palestinians will not violate the principles of the agreement.
The sixth sign is addressed to Israel. For the entire world, including the EU and Russia, are prepared to go to the UN Security Council and declare a Palestinian state. It would be better for Israel to reach a solution with the Palestinians, even if it was an imperfect agreement, as an alternative to what the Europeans view as mere intransigence. The gains Israel would make through an agreement sponsored by the United States would be greater than any gains it could achieve through the United Nations.
Despite these significant signs that inspire much hope for the success of the upcoming negotiations, the history of peace talks, from the Oslo [Accords] to Wye River [Memorandum] to the Annapolis [Conference] has produced nothing tangible that has enabled the Arab leaders, and particularly the Palestinian leaders, to market the idea of comprehensive reconciliation with Israel to their people. I explained my viewpoint, with regards to this pessimism, in an article for this newspaper, entitled “From the Peace of the Brave to Salam Fayyad.” In this article, I claimed that since 13 December 1988 when Arafat launched his initiative known as ‘The Peace of the Brave’ Palestinians and Arabs have spent more than 20 years living in a boring Mexican telenovela. They moved from “The Peace of the Brave”, to negotiations, both direct and indirect, without achieving anything significant.
There will be no agreement between the Palestinians and the Israelis unless there is a real force guarding the Palestinians backs, rather than large and small Arab states competing to play a role.
The Palestinians can achieve a breakthrough in the forthcoming talks if the Arabs are united in supporting Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas, instead of being divided between a group that supports Hamas, and another that supports Fatah. The Palestinian division is not simply an internal one, as some may think, but is first an Arab division, and secondly a regional one. The Palestinian negotiating position would be completely different if Israel’s negotiators and the United States were convinced that the Arabs stood behind Mahmud Abbas, boycotting [the negotiations] if he chose to boycott and accepting if he chose to accept. However, unfortunately, Israel today has relations with the majority of Arab states. It has formal peace with some of them, as in the case of Egypt and Jordan, and secret relations with others, where Israeli goods enter the Arab market under different names. The countries that trade the most with Israel are those that publicly oppose the normalization of relations. Until now, the world is not taking our position seriously. Let us take a stand like the one taken by late King Faisal Bin Abdulaziz – may he rest in peace – which is a serious position that makes the enemy – before the friend – think seriously about what the Arabs want. Now, however, we have a situation where the Palestinians are entering the negotiations in a weak position. Even if they reached an acceptable solution, after strenuous efforts, we would find some Arab states advising them not to accept it, “because the Palestinian, Arab, and Muslim peoples do not want a peace less than the Peace of the Brave.”